I’ll take the high road

Scot­land needs more na­tional parks be­yond the bonny banks of Loch Lomond

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Fiona Reynolds Fol­low her on Twit­ter @fionacreynolds

Fiona Reynolds says we need more Scot­tish na­tional parks be­yond the bonny banks of Loch Lomond

ENG­LAND and Wales have 13 na­tional parks be­tween them; Nor­way has 44 and Swe­den 29. Scot­land, by con­trast, has only two: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs plus the Cairn­gorms, both des­ig­nated less than 15 years ago. Surely ev­ery­one would agree that Scot­land has some of the most spec­tac­u­larly beau­ti­ful coun­try­side in Bri­tain, as wor­thy of na­tional park sta­tus as any­where in the world and which would ben­e­fit from be­ing des­ig­nated.

The dearth of na­tional parks is not for want of try­ing. Back in the 1940s, when the out­doors move­ment fi­nally per­suaded Gov­ern­ment to leg­is­late for na­tional parks in Eng­land and Wales, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into po­ten­tial ar­eas in Scot­land, chaired by Sir Douglas Ram­say, came up with five pro­posed ar­eas: in ad­di­tion to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairn­gorms, he sug­gested the moun­tain land­scapes of Glen Coe and Ben Ne­vis, Wester Ross and the ma­jes­tic in­land glens cen­tred on Glen Af­fric. The re­sponse, how­ever, was si­lence and it took another half-cen­tury be­fore there was any of­fi­cial move­ment in favour of na­tional parks.

Pre­oc­cu­pied as I’ve been with look­ing af­ter beau­ti­ful places in Eng­land, Wales and North­ern Ire­land through my time at the Na­tional Trust, it was a bit of a shock to re­alise that my fam­ily hol­i­days in Scot­land (mainly on Skye and the glo­ri­ous west coast) were decades ago and I’d hardly been to ru­ral Scot­land since. I grabbed a chance to speak at the AGM of the Scot­tish Cam­paign for Na­tional Parks and dip a toe into Loch Lomond.

I was as­ton­ished by the con­trast. My mem­o­ries of stag­ger­ingly beau­ti­ful coun­try­side were con­firmed, but Scot­land has now grasped the fact that man­ag­ing en­tranc­ing scenery is, along with the coun­try’s wel­com­ing ap­proach to ac­cess, not only good for con­ser­va­tion, but also good for peo­ple’s well­be­ing and the lo­cal econ­omy, too.

The Forestry Com­mis­sion, once pil­lo­ried for its fix­a­tion with Sitka spruce, now pro­vides camp­sites, cy­cling and walks for mil­lions of Trossachs vis­i­tors. The coun­try is criss-crossed by long-dis­tance cy­cle routes and walks; even in March, the West High­land Way was busy.

Gor­geous lit­tle Balmaha, a fish­ing vil­lage on the quiet eastern shore of Loch Lomond, has un­der­gone a re­nais­sance thanks to the stylish in­ter­ven­tions of Sandy Fraser, whose Oak Tree Inn, vil­lage store, cof­fee shop and taste­ful hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion of­fer a terrific base for some of the best walks in the na­tional park. For­ti­fied by one of the Oak Tree’s break­fasts, we had to es­chew the chance of get­ting to the sum­mit of Ben Lomond 10 miles away and con­fine our walk to Balmaha’s lochshore and mini sum­mit of Craigie Fort.

Although it was a dis­ap­point­ingly gloomy morn­ing, the qual­ity of the light was still ex­quis­ite as we walked over one hillock, de­scended to the loch and then climbed the other mini-sum­mit, from which we could sur­vey the whole south­ern end of the loch. The Ben, which should have been vis­i­ble to the north, was shrouded in cloud, but we had a spec­tac­u­lar view of the High­land fault line, which cuts through the loch and is marked by a se­ries of is­lands emerg­ing, like the prover­bial serpent, out of its glassy wa­ters.

All too soon we reached the end of the walk, a ro­man­tic pier from which boats ply out to the is­lands. We re­turned, re­freshed by glimpses of the up­per loch, the more pop­u­lous western shore and the craggy path that takes de­ter­mined walk­ers up the West High­land Way to­wards their even­tual des­ti­na­tion of Fort Wil­liam.

It was a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, but there’s clearly un­fin­ished busi­ness. At the last elec­tion, all the par­ties bar the SNP in­cluded in their man­i­festos a com­mit­ment to cre­at­ing more na­tional parks. The only ar­gu­ment against seems—now—to be about money, but there’s am­ple ev­i­dence that na­tional parks cre­ate a net fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit. This is a no-re­grets am­bi­tion: let’s have more in Scot­land so that more peo­ple can be up­lifted and re­freshed by their beauty. Fiona Reynolds is the au­thor of ‘The Fight for Beauty’ (Oneworld)

‘We re­turned, re­freshed by glimpses of the up­per loch

By yon bon­nie banks and by yon bon­nie braes: Loch Lomond by Ge­orge Les­lie Hunter

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